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10 Most-Watched Television Broadcasts in History

Television is one invention that has brought the world together, whether it is for a sporting event, a royal wedding or a high profile memorial service. These broadcast have drawn billions of people, sometimes nearly half of the world’s population.

Check out the top 10 most-watched single day television broadcasts in history.

1. 1996 Summer Olympics opening ceremony – 3.5 billion

Atlanta: 20 years later

The opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics was held on Friday July 19 at the Centennial Olympic Stadium, Atlanta, United States. Former gold medalist and boxing legend, Muhammad Ali took centre stage as he lit the Olympic cauldron. The ceremony featured Award-winning and Grammy Award-nominated film composer, John Williams, as well as singers Celine Dion and Gladys Knight. Attendance was 85,600 the live broadcast was watched by an estimated 3.5 billion viewers worldwide.

2. 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony – 3+ billion

File:2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony 2.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony was held at the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest. It featured 15,000 performers, lasted over four hours and was reported to have cost over US$100 million to produce.The stadium was filled to its 91,000 capacity and although reports on global viewership vary by source, it is estimated to have been watched by over 3 billion people worldwide.

3. Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales – 2.5 billion

The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales | Royal Galleries | Pics ...

The public funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales started on Saturday 6 September 1997 at 9:08am in London.  The official ceremony was held at Westminster Abbey in London and finished at the resting place in Althorp. Two thousand people attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey while the British television audience peaked at 32.10 million, one of the United Kingdom’s highest viewing figures ever. An estimated 2.5 billion people watched the event worldwide, making it one of the biggest televised events in history.

4. September 11 attacks – 2billion

Powerful photos from the 9/11 attacks that Americans will never ...

The September 11 attacks were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The attacks resulted in 2,977 victim fatalities, over 25,000 injuries, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. Media coverage began at 8:46 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and two-billion people tuned in to watch as it unfolded.

5. Live 8 – 2 billion

Live 8 Comes Together with DiGiCo D5 - Group Technologies

Live 8 was a string of benefit concerts that took place on 2 July 2005, in the G8 states and in South Africa aimed at eradicating poverty worldwide. More than 1,000 musicians performed at the concerts, which were broadcast on 182 television networks and 2,000 radio networks.

6. Michael Jackson memorial service – 2 billion

Michael Jackson's memorial service in LA | NME
LANDOV/Press Association Images

A public memorial service for Michael Jackson was held on July 7, 2009 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, twelve days after his death. The service was broadcast live around the world, from the U.S. to Slovakia to parts of Asia and Oceania. Public screenings were held in 37 cinemas across the U.S., as well as in Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Bucharest, Gothenburg, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malmö, Oslo, Paris, Milan, Seville, Stockholm, and Tallinn. Worldwide audience was estimated to have exceed 2 billion.

7. Larry Holmes vs. Muhammad Ali – 2 billion

SI on Muhammad Ali's defeat to Larry Holmes in 1980 - Sports ...

Larry Holmes vs. Muhammad Ali, billed as “The Last Hurrah”, was a professional boxing match contested on October 2, 1980 in Las Vegas for the WBC and Lineal Heavyweight Championships. Prior to the fight, Ali had undergone medical examination and the results were unfavourable, but the match went on. Holmes dominated the fight and was given every round by all three judges. Holmes would eventually win through a technical knockout after Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee stopped the fight after the tenth round. The fight was estimated to have been watched by a record 2 billion viewers worldwide.

8. Leon Spinks vs. Muhammad Ali II – 2 billion

On This Day: Leon Spinks shocks Muhammad Ali and the world ...

Leon Spinks vs. Muhammad Ali II, was a professional boxing match contested on September 15, 1978, in New Orleans for the WBA and Lineal Heavyweight Championships. It was a rematch of the two boxers earlier match which Spinks had shockingly won. ALi however won this match by 15th round Unanimous Decision. The fight was estimated to have been watched by a record 2 billion viewers worldwide, in some 80 nations

9. Live Aid – 1.9 billion

Queen's Live Aid Performance: How Rock's Royalty Stole The Show

Live Aid, tagged the “global jukebox”  was a dual-venue benefit concert held on Saturday 13 July 1985, as part of an ongoing music-based fundraising initiative. The event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, where about 72,000 people attended and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where 89,484 people were present. Together concerts were one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time; an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast, nearly 40% of the world population

10. Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – 1.9 billion

The royal wedding, in pictures - CNN.com

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was held on 19 May 2018, the weekend of the FA Cup final, in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom. Coverage of the royal wedding in the UK was shown on BBC One, ITV, Sky News, CNN (International) and E! (Europe) [137] The wedding was also streamed live online on YouTube via the British Monarchy’s official The Royal Channel.

Written by Emeka Nweze

Content writer and contributor.

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